Ellen Murphy is a Bellingham nonviolence activist who aids local liberal causes in many ways.
I had been an active member of the Whatcom Watch community for a few years, as writer, proofreader, copy-editor, associate editor and board member. I even drew a picture once for one of my articles, lacking a photograph.
Presently I am a self-described volunteer perspectivist—one who helps bring perspective to situations—to try and see (spect) through (per) whatever appears to be dense, fractured, or disguised. I became a perspectivist in early February 2014, the day the Watch received a six-page letter from public personage Craig Cole on his Straight Talk Consulting LLC stationary, demanding the Watch print, whenever and wherever he would tell us to, his words about an opinion/analysis piece in the January 2014 issue entitled “What Would Corporations Do?” (WWCD) by Sandra Robson, a piece Mr. Cole, despite never having been mentioned, said he felt defamed by, and might sue over. And it just so happens I edited that piece.
I am not a professional copy-editor. Background I bring to that work includes an English major at Ithaca College (an institution for which I also taught expository writing), high school English teacher, and years of writing and editing. When I saw the WWCD piece, I saw an article I thought had used the literary devices of personification (giving non-human entities human characteristics) and hypophora (asking questions to which answers can be brought). I thought the intended rhetorical methods were fine, that the piece was well-sourced, and that the writer had shown proximity between things that have actually happened, and things that, if they did happen, might conceivably benefit corporations with unpopular proposals.
I saw no problem with that, so I proceeded to edit with due care and concern anything I thought needed editing. In addition to quality writing and factual accuracy, I cared about fairness and documentation. I saw no malice in the writing, brought no malice to it myself, but wondered if the threatening letter that came later had been a parry or a feint, and if a feint, whether feints are ever malicious.
When I studied Latin as a school girl with unfulfilled aspirations to take the vow to be a nun, I was struck by the word translated as calumny. It meant deception, and you know, lying, slanderous stuff. I determined I would never commit calumny, a vow I am certain I have not been perfect in keeping. I have eschewed committing calumny to the best of my abilities though, and I believe that Ms Robson’s piece in the January issue of Whatcom Watch eschewed doing so as well.
The Watch worked hard in its own search for perspective during such accusatory times, but focused on getting its monthly issues out to its readers while expanding and contracting more than usual. One thing I did while attempting to see through things was to search for a lawyer. To one, I e-mailed “Help—I’m being sued by a coal terminal,” just for fun. He helped. Others did too.
Coming and going from February to May were people, divisions, questions, offers, and dead zones, while the latest variant in a correspondence that began with a lengthy formal demand seemed to be a tiny scribbled note. In my latest role as perspectivist, I’ve seen much that was dense, fractured and disguised. But that’s another day. For now, I will respond to readers and friends who wondered how to support Whatcom Watch and continue to wonder. In addition to subscribing, support is best done by citizen journalists refusing to allow their speech to be chilled through subtle forms of self-censorship that can float around like coal dust on a winter sea at the mention of words like “law suit.” And there is one more thing we can do, and that is to stand by a very fine writer, one Sandra Robson, a non-calumniator if there ever was one. And she never even took the vow.